East Palo Alto will invest $163,333 of its voter-approved, anti-violence tax dollars on a program that aims to keep middle- and high school students from cutting class.
"This doesn't necessarily mean that the kids who are truant are automatically going to commit violence," Mayor Ruben Abrica said. "But if they are out in the streets or left to themselves, they do become potential targets for gangs because they're recruiting kids. And they may potentially get in trouble or become victims of violence themselves, just being out there."
In November 2006, East Palo Alto voters approved Measure C, a parcel tax that brings in about $700,000 a year to fight crime, according to the city. Half of that money is supposed to go to the police department and the other half to violence-prevention programs.
The idea for a truancy pilot program came out of meetings between city representatives and officials with the Ravenswood City School and the Sequoia Union High School districts, Abrica said.
During the one-year trial, both school districts will send information to parents about the "seriousness of truancy," according to a program description. School officials then will provide a list of students in East Palo Alto who are chronically truant.
Ravenswood Superintendent Maria De La Vega said the district is identifying the students who will be targeted for intervention.
According to the district's student services office, 238 of Ravenswood's 1,133 middle school students -- 20 percent -- were categorized as truant at some point last school year, meaning they were absent three days in a row without a valid excuse.
The Sequoia Union High School District meanwhile is developing a list of East Palo Alto students who are chronically truant, Superintendent James Lianides said.
"We are very concerned that truant students are losing instruction and are at much higher risk of dropping out," he said.
The selected students and their families will get home visits from school, police and city representatives to hammer home the message that unexcused and excessive absences won't be tolerated. The district and city will also work with families to connect them with services, such as counseling, to support the students' class attendance.
Part of the money allocated for the program will be used to hire city staff to coordinate efforts between the city, districts and families, Abrica said.
"That person would literally go to the homes, talk to the families, talk to the kids, talk to the folks in the school district to access resources there so the kids won't fall through the cracks," Abrica said.
While the East Palo Alto Police Department has spent its Measure C allocation annually the last five years, the city has struggled to find programs worthy of the violence prevention dollars. From 2009 to 2012, the city disbursed $586,721 to dozens of local nonprofits, but it now wants to allocate the lion's share of prevention funds to just a few initiatives, such as re-entry programs for former offenders and the school truancy program. The city estimates it has about $545,000 per year for the next five years to spend on prevention efforts. The tax sunsets in 2017.